Written by Ng E-Jay
14 March 2011
At a keynote address during the Singapore International Energy Week in 2010, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the challenges that Singapore will face in the coming years in dealing with scarce global energy resources. 
PM Lee also briefly mentioned the prospect of building a nuclear power plant in Singapore. This was what he said:
Globally, nuclear energy would be an important part of the solution to mankind’s energy problems and to tackle global warming. It is clean, it gives off low carbon emissions, in fact no carbon emissions, but of course harnessing nuclear energy is a complex and long term enterprise. There are significant issues relating to safety and the nuclear fuel cycle and disposal of nuclear waste. And there is often strong resistance in countries, from the Green movement, from populations who have witnessed accidents like Chernobyl and are fearful and anxious about their safety. But if we look at this rationally, without nuclear energy, the world cannot make sufficient progress in dealing with global warming.
For Singapore, our small size poses additional challenges. Safety is a major concern because of our high urban density. A plant, if we ever build one, is very difficult to put very far from the population because no place in Singapore is far from population. And yet we cannot afford to dismiss the option of nuclear power altogether. So we should keep up with new developments, the technologies are advancing, smaller, safer reactors with more fuel efficient designs that reduce the amount of nuclear waste produced, and we must keep up with experiences in other countries, how they are using it, how they are deploying it, how they are managing the sentiments and concerns of the population and working out practical, sensible solutions to these problems. It will be a long time before we make any decision on nuclear energy but we should get ourselves ready to do so. And that means to give Singapore the ability to exercise the option should it one day become necessary and feasible. Therefore we have to start building up the capabilities now, to get in touch with the experts in the field, to train a few of our own engineers and scientists and then we can critically assess developments in nuclear technology and decide on the feasibility of nuclear deployment one day in the future.
The recent tragedy in Japan has brought home a very stark reminder of just how grave the safety issues concerning nuclear power plants are.
Over the weekend, Japan has fought round the clock to avert a meltdown at two reactors in the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma.
As of Sunday, the situation has only gotten worse, and Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has admitted that the explosion at Reactor 1 could only have been caused by a reactor meltdown. 
Street demonstrations have been reported in the major news wires. People are angry that the Japanese authorities commissioned nuclear power plants to be built so close to geological fault lines despite prior protests that such a decision was highly unwise. Now, the people’s worst fears have been realised, and they are venting their anger and frustration at the government.
Singapore is relatively well-insulated from the geological fault lines near the western coast of Sumatra. However, this does not mean that we are free from danger.
As PM Lee has stated, our high urban density poses a safety issue. It is impossible to locate a nuclear power plant built here far from population areas. If anything should happen, even a small accident, the safety of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands would be immediately put at risk.
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is located 300 km away from Tokyo. By comparison, Singapore only stretches 50 km coast to coast.
PM Lee is of the opinion that the nuclear power option cannot be dismissed entirely, and that Singapore must keep abreast with advances in technology to prepare itself for the day when nuclear power might become necessary and feasible.
However, no matter how technology advances, Singapore’s small size and high population density means that the potential risk for us will always be extremely high, far greater than compared to other countries.
In Japan, thousands are now put at risk of radiation poisoning. If a similar accident were to occur in Singapore, 6 million people will be immediately put in grave danger. And that is not including our neighbours Johor and Sumatra.
In my opinion, nuclear energy for Singapore cannot be made more feasible simply by advances in technology. The risk will always be too high. Public concerns and sentiment will be almost impossible to manage. Mutual suspicion from our neighbours will also compound the issue and make it intractable.
As seductive as nuclear energy is, Singapore cannot afford it.
 Japanese Government Confirms Meltdown, Stratfor, 12 March 2011.